Energy in abundance!
The supply of renewable energy will in future be multifaceted. We will obtain our power from the sun and the wind and hydropower and biogas and tidal power plants.
For the only way to ensure that consumers and industry will have a sufficient supply of power in the long run will be to place our bets on as many horses as possible.
There are thousands of genial ideas for producing clean energy. Some are far-fetched, others exist only on paper, but there are also ways of producing energy which are already feasible or are now in use. We provide a few of them below.
Of course a lot of money must be invested in order to introduce a new form of technology on a major scale, especially if the world is preparing for a recession. But some scientists see this as an advantage. One of them is the Belgian Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"Since at one time or another we will have to put the economy back on its feet, most probably by means of major investments (in infrastructure), we should now use this opportunity by investing in the climate. So instead of building more highways, we can decide to
insulate buildings on a large scale, to produce clean energy and to make industry more energy-efficient. There are all sorts of projects that can reduce global warming and at the same time can help improve the economy."
The "sun tree"
The first creative energy idea is by far the strangest: The "sun tree". Entrepreneur Alexander van der Beek invented a real-looking tree from plastic which produces electricity. The tree has leaves which produce electricity in three different ways. On top of the leaves are solar cells, whilst the difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the leaves also produces a bit of electricity.
And finally, microgenerators in the stalks can generate power from the vibration of the leaves when the wind blows. Van der Beek has created a laboratory version of the plastic leaf and swears that it works. However, the question remains, why a tree? Are solar panels so ugly?
"No, I don't find them ugly at all, just like I don't think wind turbines are ugly. But I don't like them in front of my window. Which is the reason why I started to develop the natural-looking 'energy tree' which can convert three types of electricity at once and is therefore extremely efficient while at the same time better looking."
Tidal power generator
The second creative energy solution is extremely simple. There is a construction which looks like a windmill in one of the locks of the IJsselmeer Dam. It resembles a
huge outboard motor and can be lowered into gushing water.
Pieter de Haas is Operations Director of the tidal energy firm Tocardo, which developed the device.
"It is a tidal turbine, or tidal stream turbine, which can convert streaming water into electricity. In fact, it is nothing more than an underwater wind turbine."
Which also means that you neither hear nor see the turbine - the main disadvantage of windmills. There is always a coming or going tide, which makes tidal energy more dependable than sun or wind energy. And there are tides everywhere, also underwater, so Tocardo's invention can be used anywhere on Earth. The invention has an enormous potential.
Biogas from dessert
The third clean and clever means of producing electricity is no longer experimental. The Orgaworld company near Lelystad has had a power station fuelled by biogas for years. Biocel - as the plant is called - produces the gas from all kinds of organic waste, from garden refuse to desserts bought in the supermarket. Director Henk Kaskens explains how the enormous biogas reactors operate.
"What we do is remove the oxygen from the reactor. We use the exhaust fumes from the gas turbine to remove the oxygen. We then begin to recycle the seepage, which is the liquid squeezed out of the waste. We heat it up and at the same time heat the reactor. The biogas is then produced spontaneously."
Biogas is nothing more than gas produced by warmed-up rotting organic waste. The electricity produced by the Biocel fermentation plant is supplied directly to the main power net. The electricity costs a few cents more than that produced by traditional power plants, but this is reimbursed by the government. The plant will eventually provide electricity to 3,000 households.
And finally there is geothermal energy, which of all the means described here is the most promising since it is cost-effective and the technique is reliable and has been tested. Mining engineering students at the Technical University in Delft have founded the Delft Aandwarmte Project (Delft Thermal Warming Project), DAP, to commemorate their faculty's 100th anniversary.
"At a depth of two kilometres in the Delft sandstone is a very large aquifer, a porous layer of stone full of warm water. This was discovered during a drilling by the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (the largest producer of oil and gas in the Netherlands) in 1995. We want to haul it to the surface by drilling a well and create a continuous cycle by drilling another well two kilometres further and injecting the same water deep underground."
The Delft Thermal Warming Project has already been approved thanks to the involvement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the ENECO energy company and the Dutch State Mines, DSM. The deep hot groundwater can heat the campus of the Delft Technical University as well as large sections of the town of Delft. Only one well is needed to supply thirty years of heat. Afterwards, another well can be drilled a short distance away.
Of course money will be needed for the initial investments. But we are running out of time. In the speech he gave upon accepting Wageningen University's 'Chair of Climate Change, Environment and Safety' on 16 October, Professor Pier Vellinga said:
"If we want to save the environment, then we will have to quickly change over to renewable sources of energy; we must take this step within thirty years."
Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten